Over the course of the last several weeks I’ve been thinking lots about anxiety. I’d like to tell you that my thoughts have been prompted only by the growing parade of people I meet in my travels who confess deep worry in relation to their current experience of life’s circumstances. Because of what I’ve been called to do with my life, most of these people confess worries related to current culture and their kids. I’ve run into an abundance of that lately, especially when talking to groups about youth culture. Lot’s of deeply hurting people. But it’s not just them. As I’ve gotten older, I have to confess to a personal bent towards anxiety. It’s a battle.
I’m glad I don’t have to go it alone. The Scriptures offer great guidance that I sometimes find to be easier said than done. . . which ironically can be an anxiety-trigger in and of itself. One of the most familiar commands comes from the pen of the Apostle Paul in Philippians 4:6 – “Do not be anxious about anything. . .” The greek word for “anxiety” can be translated “care” in relation to the daily troubles and challenges of life. It’s our inclination to think that the troubles are going to take us down a dismal road to a dark fate over which we have no power. Through anxiety, we attempt to protect ourselves from the things we face.
In reality, my anxiety reveals a lack of trust in God and his care. Oswald Chambers goes so far as to call it “unconscious blasphemy.” In Philippians, Paul doesn’t stop with the command to “Do not be anxious about anything.” There’s an incredibly freeing “but” that demands our attention and obedient response: “But in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” That’s life-giving. Still, I forget this more than I remember it.
Lately, I’ve tried to dissect my own anxiety. It comes from living in a culture that not only throws all kinds of anxiety-producing stuff at me, but also a culture that tells me that I need to trust myself more than I need to trust God. It comes from living in an American culture where we have and expect to have everything. It comes from living in an American church culture – yes, even an Evangelical American church culture – that promotes that same message while failing to deliver the kind of rock-hard truths of Scripture that serve as a solid foundation we can trust and cling to in the midst of life’s storms. It comes from denying the fact that those storms are actually a gift from God when they drive us to our knees in dependence on Him, and not on ourselves.
Last weekend, God gifted me with a couple of moments where He sent His great truths about anxiety and my response to it bursting into my life with great glory. Because these moments have been extremely helpful to me, I thought I’d pass them on. . . believing that if you would take the time to immerse yourself in them, they would be helpful to you as well.
First, there was a sermon my Pastor, Dr. Michael Rogers, preached on the last Sunday of 2009. I was out of town that day so I missed the sermon. Lisa and I listened to the CD while driving to Connecticut on Friday. Michael preached from Isaiah 40:12-31 on “Our All-Sufficient God.” Hearing this explanation of these familiar words was very challenging and encouraging. I can’t encourage you enough to carve out 45 minutes to sit down and listen to this sermon. You can do that here.
Second, there was a quiet moment later in the day where I picked up the Fall 09 edition of byFaith magazine. I found and read a great article by Susan Fikse – “Be Anxious For Nothing – Now?” The article included a sidebar by Dr. Paul Tripp, our friend who wrote what I consider to be the greatest Christian parenting book available today, Age of Opportunity. The sidebar is titled “Paul Tripp’s Action Steps for Anxiety.” So concise. So good. So true. So helpful. Here they are. . .
1. Remind yourself that God is in control.
When you convince yourself that your world is out of control, you are on the verge of paralysis. Watch your self-talk. Are you saying to yourself: “God is in control of this circumstance, He is my Father, and He is ruling this for my benefit”?
2. Accept confusion.
Believing in God’s sovereignty doesn’t make life make sense. Believing in God’s sovereignty is needed because life doesn’t make sense. Your rest is not in figuring out your circumstances—your rest is in the God behind the circumstances.
3. Don’t allow emotions to rule.As much as the emotions you experience will be right, good, and appropriate, don’t let them set the agenda. There is a temptation to do that, but allowing yourself to be pulled away by the emotions of the moment could cause you to regret your decisions later.
4. Distinguish needs from wants.
Be very careful what you put in your catalog of “need.” The minute you tell yourself something is a need, you’re saying it is essential for life. Then you are going to determine that you can’t live without it. It’s easy to attach yourself and your sense of security to the gift rather than to the Giver.
5. Know your job description.
God promises to provide. Your job is to live the way God has called you to live. Instead of giving way to discouragement, look for ways you can contribute to God’s people at the moment.
6. Run to God, not away from Him.God’s promise to us is not first the relief of the suffering—His promise is to give us Himself. He will never turn a deaf ear to the natural cries of a person of faith when life doesn’t make sense. God hears and answers and works and comforts.
The writer of Proverbs says that “an anxious heart weighs a man down” (12:25). I don’t want to live with that. I’m grateful to God for giving me the opportunity to cast my burdens and cares on Him.